By Paul Koch –
“A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.”
The above quote from Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers provides us with a workable metaphor for the pastoral ministry in our day. If you think about it, pastors have a lot in common with Ents.
These ancient shepherds of the forest, crafted in the imagination of Tolkien, have found themselves slowly but surely pushed to the sidelines in the trials and tribulations of the world. They lurk deep in the forest forgotten by most of society. In fact, if anyone remembers them at all, they are not regarded as anything to be too worried about; they’re an impotent bunch and more legend than real force. In their hiding, they have, for all intents and purposes, been lulled to sleep.
Pastors may not hide away in the forest of Fangorn. We’re not (at least most of us) recluses and hermits, but we do hide. The only difference is we have gotten much more sophisticated about our hiding. We hide in bureaucratic institutions; we hide in the advice of experts; we hide in ivory towers and clever programs. Our hiding is firmly rooted in a real understanding of our own sinfulness and a weakening of our resolve to do what it is we have been sent to do. A pastor, first and foremost, is a preacher: one who delivers the goods and proclaims Christ crucified for the death and resurrection of many. But that work is slow-moving, often with no visible result of its effectiveness. I imagine it’s somewhat similar to shepherding trees. So pastors begin to pull back from the authority given in their charge as their eyes go wandering for something else to provide the fruit that proclamation alone didn’t seem to create.
In Tolkien’s story, when the Ents must decide something important – like whether or not they go to war – they call for an Entmoot. This Entmoot is a meeting where all the Ents gather to discuss the important matters at hand. Now, if you’ve ever been to a large pastor’s conference, you probably already know where I’m going with this. That’s right, we have our own version of the Entmoot. We gather in conference halls and bring in “experts” to give us their words of wisdom. More often than not, this gathering focuses on the best places to hide from doing our task. I’ve listened to topics ranging from inter-generational ministry plans to strategic church development, and even reimagining the pastor’s role as that of a coach empowering the flock.
In Tolkien’s description of the Entmoot, the Ents’ decision to engage the world and go to war by attacking Isengard takes three days of discussion. Three days to sit and discuss; three days to weigh all the options; three days without action or engagement. There is something so familiar about all this. You go to a conference and have fun, see old friends, and talk long into the night. The encouragement is often about engaging through means other than that of proclamation. The encouragement is to use this or that program, to look to the success stories of other Ents (I mean pastors), and see how you might best employ them in your situation. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with any of this advice in and of itself. The problem is that, more often than not, the result of the Entmoot is reliant on the strategy, the program, the bureaucracy, the cleverness, or creativity of another, rather than the strength and the authority already present in the Living Word.
The best practices, the most faithful liturgical forms, and the greatest relevant strategies for growth are but lowly servants to the proclamation of the Word. They may provide reinforcement and some direction, but little more than that. Yet when we stop looking to bureaucratic structures for assurance, come out from behind our clever strategies, and reclaim the power of the Word which we are already given to proclaim, then we remember just how strong we really are.
“To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;
For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!”
So sing the Ents as they march to war, as they engage the world with the strength they possessed the whole time.
And so the proclaimers of the Word must rise up today. The Entmoots must now lead us to war with the strength to tear down the doors of stone. It is the Word proclaimed that holds the power; it is the Word that crushes the sinner and breathes new life into the repentant that must lead the way. No more hiding, and no more looking elsewhere. It’s time to wake up and find that in Christ you are strong!